A Very Short History of the Juvenile Drama.
The English Toy Theatre – or Juvenile Drama – dates back to 1811 when a London stationer named William West published the first cheap theatrical prints as souvenirs of the spectacular melodramas and pantomimes being performed on the London stage at the period. The idea quickly spread like wildfire among the boys (and toy theatres were essentially toys for boys) who clamoured for these cheap prints of characters and scenes-costing ‘a penny plain’ and ‘twopence coloured’ – designed and destined to be cut-up and performed in miniature wooden theatres enabling innumerable domestic performances of the latest plays to be renacted in the drawing room before a sympathetic audience of family and friends.
The mania lasted for half a century. After the 1860’s no new plays were published but much of the old repertoire was kept in print by a dwindling number of theatrical print publishers and the tradition continued unbroken until 1944 when Miss Louisa Pollock shut up her father’s famous shop in Hoxton for ever and sold the contents as a going concern.
The story continues. If you want to find out more, just Google ‘Toy Theatre’ and you will find several sites dedicated to the Juvenile Drama.
Through the brilliantly coloured procenium arch is a kingdom of dark forests, rocky shores, rugged caverns, prismatic grottoes, oriental palaces and exploding windmills; populated by sailors, soldiers and other impoverished heroes endlessly engaged in desperate combats in order to to confound the knavish trickery of smugglers, pirates, highwaymen and brigands with roving eyes, wandering hands and dastardly designs on unsuspecting village maidens.
Its sentiment is unsophisticated, its art enchanting, its vision romantic and its effect magical. For almost two centuries this English popular art has exerted its hold upon the romantic imagination.
Long may it continue!